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Congressman calls for US to support Poland’s war reparations claim against Germany

A US congressman has declared his support for Poland’s claim of up to $1.3 trillion in war reparations from Germany and has called on the American government to encourage Berlin to enter into negotiations with Warsaw on the issue.

“It cannot stand that Poland, the country that suffered the most under Nazi Germany, should be one of the least compensated,” declared Chris Smith, a Republican who is the joint-longest serving member of the House of Representatives and chairs its global human rights subcommittee.

Smith notes that tomorrow, on 1 September, the world will mark the anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 that began the war. But “many people in Poland, Germany, and the United States will also think about the current impasse between their countries over compensation for war losses”.

He pointed to a report published last year by the Polish government that estimates the country’s losses as a result of German occupation, including 5.2 million Polish citizens killed, entire Polish cities reduced to rubble, and many Polish financial and cultural institutions looted or destroyed.

Poland’s report “makes painful reading”, yet such “numbers only begin to convey the enormity of what Poland lost under six years of terror-occupation”, wrote Smith, who is also co-chair of the Congressional Poland Caucus.

The congressman argued that this tragedy has been compounded by the subsequent limited efforts by Germany to compensate the victims of its crimes.

“The German state has made no direct reparations payment to the Polish state nor signed any bilateral compensation agreement with the Polish state – though it has signed bilateral agreements with over a dozen countries and international agreements with some victim groups,” wrote Smith.

“To date, Germany has not systematically returned or made compensation to Poland for th[e] theft” of financial and cultural assets, he added. And “only token payments have been made to a small number of Poles…that met stringent criteria”.

The congressman noted that, since publishing its report last year, the Polish government has called on Berlin to enter negotiations over war reparations. But, “unfortunately, the German government has refused”.

“Yet it’s not too late for Poland,” he continued. “The compensation process remains ongoing…[and] has no expiration date…Germany continues to make payments to other victims, and it negotiates annually on programs to support them. The fact that [it] does this and yet refuses even to enter discussion with Poland is inexplicable.”

Smith also pointed out that “our government has always encouraged Germany to open discussions with claimants” and that “since the mid-1990s Congress has passed laws and resolutions promoting compensation for groups and restitution to individuals damaged by Nazi Germany”.

“We have put our weight behind the principle that compensation should be made and that these questions should be resolved according to substantive justice,” concluded the congressman. “I believe the US government should do the same for Poland, clearly signalling its support for a discussion of the Polish claim.”

Germany argues that Poland renounced its claim to reparations in the 1950s, and that this position was reaffirmed by subsequent governments. However, Warsaw rejects that argument, saying that no legally binding commitment was made and that compensation is still due.

Since launching its bid for reparations last year, Poland’s government has sought to garner international support, including sending a diplomatic note on the issue to all countries in the European Union, NATO and Council of Europe.

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Main image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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